Thursday, April 30, 2015

Early Spring Garden and Thomas Jefferson

We seem to be providing habitat for Robins at our place.  Seems like every tree that's tall enough to support a nest, has one.  These are hatchlings from the eggs I showed you a post or two ago.  Mother Robin is being very patient with me.  In fact, if I'm out on the patio, sometimes she will come and hunt bugs in the yard just past the patio.  She lights on the ground and looks at me for a minute as if to say, "I'm off the nest now, so go take your pictures now, if you MUST".  Heh.

Two views from upstairs:

I watched Growing a Greener World on PBS last Saturday.  The whole show was about Thomas Jefferson and how he was America's first "Master Gardener" with his gardens at Monticello. HERE is their website.

Thomas Jefferson didn't use chemical fertilizers or weed and insect killers because there weren't any back then.  He fertilized with manure and believed the healthier the plants are, the better able they are to fight off disease and bug infestations.  Of course, back then, they didn't have a lot of the insects and diseases we have now.

He is responsible for introducing a lot of interesting plants from other countries.  A lot of what he tried to grow failed.  But he kept at it.  You know, we've talked about this sort of thing before.  Success is a product of persistence.

One of the interesting things about the show was that they talked about the detailed notes he kept on the garden and they mentioned that every Monday from spring to fall, he "planted a thimbleful of lettuce", thus assuring fresh lettuce all summer and into late fall.

I'm really bad about keeping up with weekly sowing of stuff like lettuce.  And I'd like to do better.  But I've always thought that it just got too hot here to grow lettuces during any time but spring or fall.  I've had beautiful lettuce turn into a weedy-looking, bitter-tasting monster plenty of times.  But Pinetree had some varieties that they said were slow to bolt and didn't get bitter when the weather gets hot.  So this year I'll see if that's possible here in Oklahoma.  

This is Pinetree's All Year Round lettuce.  It came up well for me and is holding its own in the sweet-potato bed. 

Isn't it pretty?     

Here is Jericho.
Supposed to be a COS type from the deserts of Israel.

This is Merveille de Quatre Saisons.  A bibb type lettuce that forms a loose 12" head.  I love the color.

There were some things that failed miserably, the most outstanding of which was Bok Choy.  They were growing in the blank spots in the sweet-potato bed, and went promptly to seed.  Did that last year, too.  I did a little research and found that Bok Choy has to have near-perfect conditions.  Well, that ain't gonna happen here.  Thus they made my "I Will Never Grow Again" list and were pulled.

Just this side of center are two rows of Tyfon or Holland Greens.  It's a brassica cross between Chinese cabbage and turnips.  Supposed to get quite large but I haven't seen that yet.  I've had several pickings off this and it is similar to turnip greens in texture but without the mustard-y taste.  It's supposed to grow quite large and be best as a cooked green.  Some say they like it better than spinach. 

And to the front is Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, just a packet I bought at Atwood's, although Pinetree sells this seed also.  Of course we know that spinach is the food of choice for mice and rats so I've had a time keeping it from getting munched down to the ground and several of the plants have completely given up the fight to live through stuff like that.  I love spinach as a fresh salad, with Ranch dressing, thin slices of hard-cooked egg, and some salty sunflower seeds for crunch. I planted ten plants along the edge of the herb garden in the yard as well, and only about half have survived the Things That Go Chomp In The Night.

I have been taking small harvests from these plants since before they were even set out into the garden, and I figure they have already paid for the cost of their seed.  I gather the large outside leaves and leave the center to continue to grow.   So far that has worked out just fine.  A quick wash in cold water and a run through the Salad Spinner, then packed in a ziplock bag or a glass jar with a lid, and we have crisp lettuce whenever we want.  Some people vacuum seal a jar but I don't find that's needed for no longer than we keep it.  If you work and want to take salad for lunch, a jar is a good thing to pack it in.  Just put your wet ingredients in the bottom, and give the jar a good shake just before you eat it, right out of the jar.  Yesterday morning I picked enough to tightly fill a gallon-sized ziplock bag and gave that to Joe when he came over to borrow the rat trap and drown tank.  They have seen at least six at their place just across the road.  I told Joe, "If you've SEEN six, you probably have SIXTY".  We haven't caught anything lately and I figure the rats Joe is able to destroy is that many that won't be paying us a visit eventually. 

But anyway, I had picked from only half the lettuce row so today I can go out and harvest another bag for our own use.

One of the extra benefits that comes from having a garden is that often there will be enough to share.  Our neighbors are always delighted to get fresh produce.  Joe and Cathy don't like hot peppers, Bob and Sharry can't eat tomatoes and peppers.  Jay, on the other hand, loves peppers, so it all works out.  All of them got tired of cucumbers last summer, so I made Bread and Butter pickles, which Joe loves, and every now and then I take a jar to him. 

Spring has been cold for longer periods than our springs usually are.  If I had sown seed every Monday since starting these inside, by now I'd have so many little cups of lettuce that I wouldn't have had room for anything else.  But on Monday I sowed some of each of the three lettuces, in planters.  I will be pulling those that are growing in the sweet potato bed eventually to make room for the sweet potato slips, which will be getting transplanted in about May 15.  And then they will have to do some growing before they will need the space that the lettuces are taking.  By that time the lettuce in planters should be coming along, and they can be moved to the shade, or even inside, if need be, when the weather has heated up.

The peas and cabbages and potatoes are doing well, but there's nothing to pick yet.  That's them in the upstairs view of the garden: peas on the far left, then an empty space, then two rows of potatoes, then one of cabbage.  I still have quite a bit of sauerkraut left so I didn't start a great many cabbage plants.  I just want some to have fresh, like in cole slaw, and I want to try freezer cole slaw.  There are lots of recipes online for this and I can't recommend one over the other so at the current time my advice to you is to do what I'm going to do and that's just pick one that has good ratings on Allrecipes or Cook's or Taste Of Home or SouthernFood or whatever cooking site is your favorite.  I don't like mine too terribly sweet and some folks do, so I'll be watching for one with less sugar than some of the others.

I'm still enjoying asparagus, but it will be done soon, now.  You can pick asparagus until the shoots get smaller around than a pencil, or until they get woody, whichever happens first.  I saw bundles of asparagus at WMT a week or so ago, and the spears were about a foot long and 'way too thin.  I guess these commercial growers must be in a hurry to get their stuff to market.  I don't let the asparagus I'm going to pick get much longer than about 8".  Lots of people cut them with a knife but they break easily so I usually just break them off.  Maybe that's the wrong thing to do, but that's what Mom always did, and we enjoyed asparagus every spring, except for the fact that she always cooked the bejeezers out of it. 

The first planting of beets is up, but struggling because the dill seedlings just keep marching on and I haven't been able to get ahead of them because of the cold.  Then when the weather is warmer, I'm busy trying to get tomatoes and peppers set out.  I could use another garden hand right now.  The second beet planting is not up yet.

I am pulling out huge bundles of the Hairy Vetch that I sowed this time last year.  The jury is still out as to whether this was a good idea.  It seems to be companioning the Bindweed rather than discouraging it.  It does, however, shade out Bermuda grass.  I sowed Buckwheat and Field Pea last fall as a winter cover and I haven't seen emergence of the Buckwheat.  Field Pea, though, is now being pulled out.  I didn't think of this earlier, but if they bloom I might be causing cross-pollination with my garden peas, and I save that seed every year.  So that was a bad idea.  Some of these "new ideas" don't take into account the unique conditions that you might have in your garden.  I try to keep an open mind and give things a try on the off-chance that things'll work like they say it will.  This thing about not tilling in order to preserve the earthworms is making transplanting a lot harder, because now I have to pull weeds beforehand and that is getting to be a real pain in more ways than one.  So earthworms BETTER be making gold out of my soil, that's all I've got to say.  I admit the soil does feel better than it ever has, but the weed roots are really deep.  Maybe they have that mycorrhizal process going on.   HERE is an interesting PDF I found on the Internet about that.  Mulching works for me with some limitations.  Bindweed just keeps growing under it till it finds a light source.  I could pile on hills of mulch six feet high and there'd be Bindweed growing out of the top of it.

On my April 18 post, I mentioned about how Paul Wheaton said you could plant seeds from apples and have only a 20% chance that the fruit from the tree will be "spitters", in which case, the tree will still be a nice big shade tree and the wildlife will eat the fruit.  Plus it'll be a stronger, more drought-resistant tree because it hasn't been grown in some nursery, had its tap root severed, and then sat in a pot waiting for you to come along.  So when I went to Aldi I bought a bag of Fuji apples.  Then I went on line to see how best to handle the seeds.  The advice was mostly bad.  First, they said, remove the seeds from the apple and let them dry out.  No, don't do that, because some may be in the process of germinating, right inside the apple.  And if you interrupt the cycle by letting them dry out, the seed will be killed.  Quarter the apple carefully by cutting all the way around the apple, to, but not through, the core, and then break the apple the rest of the way apart by twisting with both hands, one half in the opposite direction of the other half.  This lessens the chance that you damage any seed that might be in the path of your knife.  Then remove the seed from the pieces of the core after you've cut it away from each quarter.  There weren't very many seed in the Fuji apples.  Most instructions said that apple seeds need winter stratification.  I decided to do a test because it looked to me like some of the seeds had split their seed coat already.  They all went immediately into a damp paper towel.

This happened within less than a week.  So much for winter stratification.  Maybe it depends on the variety of apple.  If they hadn't germinated, I could have transferred them to a sandwich bag full of damp peat, and put it in the refrigerator.  So, no risk involved in this detour.

Some of the seed had sent out a piece of root but there was no hint of cotyldons, and I planted them very shallowly in the cup.  The two that you see here already had cotyldons peeking from the split seed coat.  Those were planted with the seed coat above the soil line.  I'm thinking that maybe the germination in the paper towel saps their strength and some of them don't have enough oomph left to push up through a thin layer of soil.  The next ones I plant, I might just lay on the surface of the soil and barely cover with a thin layer of worm castings. 

Well, that's about it for now.  Till next time,

Rock on.  Hugs xoxoxo

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Daily Doin's, Third Week Of April, 2015

Planted Crosby Egyptian Beets.  Here is what they say about Crosby Egyptian Beets:  Early -  45 days.  First introduced in 1869.  Doesn't get woody, winters over (pay attention seed savers) and doesn't have an earthy aftertaste as some beets do.  My seed was from Pinetree but also available from Baker Creek Rare Seeds.  I set them to soak Monday morning and then discovered the ones I'd planted two or three weeks ago had come up.  I just didn't see them because of all the dill growing around them.  I planted a row of old Cylindra seed on the same day, haven't seen them emerge yet.  Cylindra were ok to try but they push themselves up out of the ground so badly that the top part of the beet is always woody and inedible.  It's billed as a good canning beet because it's long and narrow and maybe that's an advantage but if the Crosby beet works out I will just grow them from now on and not buy any more Cylindra seed.

Caught another rat.  I had cleaned out a spot along the east garden fence for the transplant of dipper gourd plants that came up from seed I'd scattered at the east yard fence, then another spot along the west garden fence for canteen gourd seedlings that had emerged at the south yard fence, and a spot in the newer part of one of the garden beds where I buried compost that included seeds from a couple of cantaloupes that we had bought at Aldi.  Hubs carted all the rock from these digging episodes, plus that which we dug out early last week where I'd planted some tomato plants, to The Rock Wall.  Then he did some trimming in the yard and out around the property with the weed-wacker.

I had intended to plant fennel around in the garden instead of dill and then found out fennel apparently isn't a good companion plant for anything.  Bummer.  Glenda, I wonder if you have found fennel "unfriendly" to your other plants?  Sometimes all this "companion planting" information seems a little too rigid.  I like to add fennel to my spaghetti sauce and I think I would enjoy the taste of fennel seed tea.  It's said to calm the nerves and promote mental clarity.  And yeah, like Glenda said, it'd be really good in sausage.

I planted six Ruth's Perfect tomato plants.   There is space for one more row of something in the south end of this particular bed.  I think it'll be Aunt Molly's tomatillo.

Sitting out on the front steps, smelled "an odor", found another dead rat under the plant table, in front of the un-used garage door.  Hubs doesn't think it's the missing one from Sunday because it was where it would be kind of hard for something else to drag it.

Mother Robin sitting on her nest in the Maple tree in the front yard.
Now you can say you know what the under-side of a Robin looks like.  Heh.  The robins are thick this year.  Haven't seen Cardinals since winter was over.

I'm really concerned about that bird flu.  Even if a vaccine is developed for our domestic turkeys and chickens, what about the songbirds?  What about all this bug-catching and weed-seed eating and fertilizing from the tree branches that our wild birds do for our gardens?

There is so much talk of The End Of The World As We Know It, and I really think that could be caused by so many things.  We are living on the edge and we should be banding together for the greater good.  But no.  We're killing each other because of our religion or our color or our nationality or because we're a nutcase or we're drunk with power (or just plain drunk, period).  We're using our skills and talents to wreak havoc in the lives of people we don't even know.  Our children are being desensitized to killing in front of the television, through the game console, or on the iPad screen.  They'll be killing each other just because they're bored. 

I worry about a global shortage of water in the parts of the world where our food is grown.  Americans (maybe people in other countries, too, but I don't know enough about that to say) are so wasteful across the board, including with water.  Many people have these grassy lawns that are thicker than any carpet you'll ever see, and sprinkler systems that go off automatically every morning in the summer months, even when it's raining.  The water runs off the curbs and into the streets.  Such an obscene waste.  It's just GRASS, People!!  Hubs and I don't use a lot of water.  If our grass dies, it dies.  Bermuda is our native grass and though it's an invasive grass that we are constantly digging out of our gardens and flower beds, it does make extensive root systems that run deeply in the ground and prevent erosion of the soil during dry times, though the surface may have stopped growing and turned brown.  Even burning off does not damage Bermuda grass roots.  We do water the gardens and our young trees and bushes during the dry months in an effort to keep things alive, but many times it's rain water that we have collected, for edible plants, or recycled "gray water" from the kitchen and the bathtub for flowers, trees and bushes.  It saddens me that people always think every resource we have is available in unlimited supply until it's so dang late that there's no going back.  Even if they have to go through a shortage, they never learn anything from the experience.  Once the emergency has passed, they go right on back to their greedy, wasteful ways.  They laughed at Al Gore.  He who has the last laugh, laughs longest.  But really, People, this is no laughing matter.  God made mortal man to be the steward of all living things on the earth.  What a disappointment we must be!  Water and soil are living things.

If there is ever a serious food shortage, the Upper Class will eat as well as they always have, they can afford it.  The Poor will be taken care of through non-profit organizations.  The Middle Class will be Up Sh** Crick Without A Paddle.  Like always. America needs its Middle Class and ought to be protecting it.   We carry everyone else on our backs, and not usually because we want to.

Back to situations that I can actually do something about.  Caught another rat.  Hubs talked to Joe, across the street, and he said they are overrun with rats, too.

Hubs watches all our neighbors and tries to guess what it is they're doing when it's not apparent.  Before long he's unable to stand it any longer so he goes over there and asks what they're doing.  He's been watching our new neighbors on the turn-off, and they have been busy building something, so he went over there and introduced himself.  Turns out the man is someone I went to grade school with and we haven't seen each other since 6th grade.  And here I was thinking it would be a young couple.  But really, that house is ideal for an older couple and probably not big enough for a young couple with a growing family, at least by today's American standards of needing a bedroom for every kid, plus a master bedroom and a guest room.

There has been no activity on the acreage on the other side of our North Fourth, but Joe says it has been bought by a couple who plan to build on it and then sell for a profit.  As much as they paid for the acreage, it's hard for me to see how they could make much profit, unless they put more than one house on the property.  He is a contractor and she is a realtor.  They told Joe this is an ideal spot for people who want "country living" but don't want to live 'way out in the sticks.  I think we'll all miss that big open field on the curve of our road, and the feeling of open-ness it affords to us all.  But that's progress, I guess.  Our new neighbors told Hubs they're thinking about building a second house on their land for their son and his family.  What they're building right now, though, is a storage building for the son's boat and apparently he has race cars.  I'm grateful that, regardless of what everyone around us does, we will still have enough open land all around our house that we will never have to hear what our neighbors do inside their houses.  Been there, done that.  Houses in town look so crowded together to us now.  Boy, are we ever spoiled now.

I was pretty worthless on this day, it being cold and windy out.  I puttered around in the kitchen.  Made Glenda's 20-minute hamburger buns (see her post of a couple days ago -- Living & Gardening In The Ozarks on my sidebar).  I used half whole-wheat flour and they were very good.  Would've been better had I not scorched the bottoms by leaving them in the oven too long.  Next time I'll watch them more closely.  I'm really bad about getting side-tracked.

I went out to the garden to bury the contents of the compost bucket, then harvested enough kale to fill the sink.  Of course when I came back in from the garden I forgot and left the compost bucket out there.  I wonder how many trips I will make out to the garden, get side-tracked, and still not bring in the compost bucket?  I guess I need a belt with hooks.  Heh.  After stripping out the tough center rib of the kale, cutting it up and sautee'ing it, I had two full pints of kale.  One went into the freezer, I thought I'd make beans of some kind today and use the other pint in that, along with some chopped Egyptian Walking Onions, since it went over so well the last time.  I'm getting a little tired of these chilly days, but they are good conditions for kale.  When the weather warms up I will probably not harvest from them, as I understand they have to have cold to "sweeten them up".  This is the coldest spring I can remember having in a long time.  As long as we don't get temps below 30º, I should just keep my big mouth shut.  Lots of baby fruit on the trees.  Barring freezing temps, high winds, disease, pestilence or theft by wild critters, there will be a lot of canning going on this summer.  Trying not to worry about it, take what I get and be grateful.  Remember, it's only about one year in three that fruit trees in NE Oklahoma don't have the bejeezers frozen out of them right after fruit-set.

I did harvest the Comfrey and discovered a good use for one of my flimsy tomato cages.
They don't work very well as tomato cages at all because they collapse and/or fall over too easily under the weight of a healthy plant. 

Spiraea prunifolia are done flowering and now the Spiraea japonica are in bloom.
I bought these at WMT -- I think it was the spring of 2013??  And then I learned that japonica doesn't get as big as prunifolia.  They're only bigger than the prunifolias now because they're older.  I think I'll propagate more of both kinds and intermingle them so there will be extended bloom all along the fence.  The prunifolias draw beneficial insects to the garden at a time when hardly anything else is blooming.  The japonicas will not get but about a foot taller at full maturity, but they will get wider.  I'm hoping the prunifolias will get to the top of the fence. But it's nice to have both, because the japonicas take up where the prunifolias left off, bloom-time-wise, even though there are more things blooming to draw the beneficial insects now.

This Alabama Crimson honeysuckle, for instance.
When the sun is shining, these red flowers are almost fluorescent.  We have seen our first hummingbirds.  They should find plenty to eat here without my having to dig out the feeders.

The iris are starting to bud up and open out.  Already, Eleanor Roosevelt, Indian Chief, and the Dwarf Yellow/Brown are in full bloom.  There's a new white with greenish-brown markings on the falls that is opening, and so is Tahiti Sunrise, which was growing at The Ponca House when we moved in there.  My newest iris are from a bag that I bought at a garage sale last spring.  The woman said they were "hybrid iris", and almost all iris are hybrid, but anyway.  The white one I mentioned is one of them.  She couldn't tell me what colors they'd be so it's going to be a surprise.  If they all turn out to be the same, I'll clump them together.  And of the iris I got from a dear and loyal friend (you know who you are), all have lived here now two years and some have buds.  Looking forward to them blooming.  I'm taking pictures as they go along and will probably do an Iris post later on.  Since I "go 'way back" with our new neighbors already I guess I can ask them for a start of those rust-colored iris that grow on their place along the road.  Heh.  I love Iris.  I guess you can't tell that though.  They don't bloom for very long, but they'll grow nearly anywhere, tolerate hot and dry, hold their own with weeds and grass (and rock), and when they're in bloom they knock your socks off.  Back in the old days, before cemeteries were maintained with power equipment, lots of people would plant iris at headstones. 

Iris always remind me of a story about a couple of feuding "ladies of The Old South" whose children fell in love and were getting married to each other.  Now, back in the day when women were ladies, you couldn't BE out-and-out rude, hateful or otherwise bitchy.  Because your Mama taught you, if you couldn't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.  But some of them found ways to dig at each other that were more pervasive.  So, the story goes that, at the wedding, the groom's mother approached the bride's mother, bent over to smell her orchid corsage, and said, with a wide, gracious smile and steely eyes, "Oh, I just love Iris...."

There is so much trash on TV these days.  Even during "family hours".  Somebody's asleep at the wheel because I sure wouldn't want MY little kids sitting in front of the TV when shows like Two And A Half Men and Hot In Cleveland are on.  Here are a couple of real jewels from a couple of sitcoms that, unlike a lot of what is offered today, really deserved to be on during family hours.  From Everybody Loves Raymond, Amy and Robert's Wedding Dance.   From The Cosby Show, Theo and Rudy doing James Brown and then Ray Charles.  I don't know how you feel about the allegations about Bill Cosby, in fact, I don't know how I feel about them.  Somebody's lying, we just don't seem to have proof who that is.  God knows.  In the end, it's so pointless to lie about the things you do, and I wonder if people who do awful things and then try to get away with it by lying about it really believe in God.  So many people say they do but they act like they think they're exempt from God's wrath.  But for the moment, let's put that aside and just enjoy these for what they are, OK?  Now that you're warmed up, here's a remake of Laurel and Hardy dancing to Happy.  LOL!  Of course I had to find the original it was taken from  HERE.  Here's one to 100 Pipers.  And here is Shine on Harvest Moon

Thursday, not much to report.  Caught a couple more rats.  Went to visit our good friend June.  The recycling drive is being held on Saturday and she had some things for us to put in with the stuff we're taking.  On the way home we saw our new neighbor outside and stopped.  He took us inside to meet his wife.  They've already painted the walls, took up all that ugly beige carpet (just like what we took out of our living room and dining room) and put down wood-look vinyl flooring strips.  They said it was a lot easier to install than the laminate flooring planks, which they'd had in a house they lived in earlier.  It looked very nice. 

This is now Sunday morning.  On Friday, we went into town and hit a few garage sales and an estate sale.  I don't know why I even bother to go to estate sales that are handled by "professionals".  Everything is so expensive on the first day.  On the second day, they mark everything half price but the prices were marked up so high to begin with that most of the time there aren't any bargains on that day, either.  If I was looking for something that was hard to find and didn't care what I had to pay for it, I might buy.  But lately, I haven't seen anything that I would want to buy even if the price was low.  So, as usual, I didn't find anything I wanted at the estate sale.  Didn't find much I wanted at the garage sales, either.  Just a set of eight crocheted placemats, a nice wire basket, and a hat for Our Little Punkin' Pie, this winter.

While we were in town we bought a few groceries and passed where our grandson JR works, but it looked like they were all in some kind of meeting so he just waved to us through the glass and we waved back. 

That day was chilly and there was a cold wind blowing.  I didn't do much else except some laundry.

Saturday was the day of the local Garden Club plant sale, AND the "Clean House" recycling drive put on by Conoco-Phillips, AND, we noticed, some kind of a running thing in the middle of town.  It was a lot of stuff going on at the same time and I thought it was kind of poor planning.  But it's been raining and they originally planned the Garden Club sale the weekend before.  For the past several years, there have always been two Garden Club plant sales every spring.  One has a lot of things offered and the prices are really decent.  The other is a lot smaller and the prices are a lot higher.  Guess which one this was.  So all I bought was a Pregnant Onion, which was reasonably priced. 

Since we were right there at the back of Atwood's for the Plant Sale, we went through Atwood's greenhouse and all the plants they had setting outside before we left.  I didn't find anything I wanted there, either. 

We took our things to the recycling drive and by the time we got there the lines were moving quickly and we were in and out in pretty short order.  June had an old computer monitor and a scanner, we had a crashed computer, some oil-based paint, some empty spray-paint cans, some batteries, and some burned-out fluorescent light bulbs.

We stopped at a greenhouse that was on the way home, and that place was really humming with customers.  I bought a new iris for $9. 

This is called "Rock Star".  The price wasn't marked and there was a sign nearby that said "Perennials, $2.99".  I didn't find out it was $9 till I got to the counter.  But, by that time, I was in such a good mood because I'd found a Rober's Lemon Rose scented geranium that I've been looking for, that I went ahead and paid for the iris without a whimper.  That's about what they were asking for iris at the Garden Club sale, anyway. 

After we got home I transplanted the Purple Tomatillo plants. 

The herbs have dried and have been put in jars and labeled.  Always label your dried herbs.  You can ruin a good dish by grabbing the wrong thing, and when they're dried, many of them look very similar.

See how nice and green everything is?  THAT's what they should look like.  If you dry your herbs with heat, some of them will turn brown.  I re-use canning flats when I vacuum seal, and I always end up throwing several flats away before I get everything sealed, because I have bent up the flat too much when I opened the jar that it was originally sealed onto.  I usually pry the jar open with the back of a dinner knife blade, but it's a struggle to do it that way and often still bends up the edge of the flat so it won't seal down ever again.  I went out on the Internet to see if anyone had come up with a good way to open a sealed mason jar without damaging the lid and I found one,  HERE , of a guy using a chopstick.  I don't have a chopstick, so I went out to the garage and got a small flat-end screwdriver and tried to use the technique, but I didn't find it to work very well.  What I did do, however, was to place that screwdriver between the narrow end of the glass threading and the edge of the metal flat, then slowly twisting the screwdriver at an angle between that jar thread and the metal edge of the flat.  This worked better than the way I have been doing.  I didn't hurt the glass jar and I didn't see any damage to the lid.  But I can see how, if a person wasn't real careful, they could nick the glass jar.  Maybe I should just buy some bamboo chopsticks.  Does anyone have a better way of opening up a mason jar so that the flat can be used again?   

I'm happy to report that the acid reflux problem I've been having since the first of the year seems to have gone away.  I don't know exactly why.  Maybe I just plain wore it out, do you think?  Or maybe the fact that I've changed my eating habits such that I've lost ten pounds since mid-January is the reason.  I admit that I tried "coconut oil pulling" a couple of times and found it not to be as gag-worthy as some people have said, but I haven't shared this information with Hubs and so I haven't wanted to do it while he is around.  He'll just roll his eyes and shake his head, and he already does too much of that, if you ask me.  I'm not sure it's really the panacea some people claim it is, they make themselves sound so much like those "snake oil" medicine shows like you see sometimes in the old westerns that it kind of puts me off.  You know, where something in a bottle cures everything from a skin abrasion to cancer.  But one of the things coconut oil pulling is supposed to cure is acid reflux.  HERE is a YouTube about it.  It could've also been those Ricola cough drops, I don't know.....  I can't think of anything else I did that was any different than normal than these three things.  Regardless, I'm a happy camper to be rid of THAT.

So now I'm able to drink my tomato juice with breakfast and I have really missed it.  This juice is from my own home-grown organic tomatoes, and in fact, is a spin-off of an idea Paula passed on to me about how to make thick tomato sauce without having to cook it down.  So what's in the bottom of the pan becomes tomato sauce, and the clear-ish liquid that's poured off the top canned separately, as tomato juice.  It is difficult NOT to get SOME tomato pulp in the jar and this is just fine.

After it's chilled, shaken and poured into a glass, it looks and tastes like tomato juice should.  All I added to the jar was a teaspoon of salt.  This is thinner than commercial tomato juice, which I think is 'way too thick, anyway.  But if it's too thin for your tastes, you could buy tomato juice or V-8, and mix them half and half.  Or you could brighten it up with lemon juice, or even make your own V-8 if you wanted to.  Otherwise, what are you going to do with this liquid you've siphoned off your tomato sauce other than use it as a base for soup?  Does anyone really eat enough soup to be able to use it up that way?   
Go HERE if you want to know what's in V-8.  This is a really interesting website and I'm thinking about signing up for their newsletters.  But, anyway, if I were making my own V-8, I think I'd use kale and cucumber instead of watercress and lettuce.  I could be wrong (and often am), but I'd think there'd be more nutrition in kale and cucumber than in watercress and lettuce. 

Next week is surgery for my good friend Paula.  I hope y'all will keep her in your prayers, as will I. 

The people from a local charitable organization are supposed to come take our sofa on Tuesday, hopefully it will not be raining, or they will cancel and who knows then, where we'll be on their schedule.   With the sofa gone, I can take some pictures of the room with our new furniture in it and get that posted.  I don't want to bother God with a little thing like this, so I won't ask for your prayers.  But think good thoughts, ok?  

This day has turned off cold, again, after we enjoyed a beautiful day yesterday with a high of 83º.  It's supposed to warm up to only 68º today but maybe I can head out to the garden before too much longer.  

And that's about all I have for this time.  Till next time,  Rock On....  Hugs xoxoxoxo

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mostly Herbs And Yarbs

We've had several rainy days in a row, lately.  Not usually much in accumulation.  One day, the bullet tank beside the garage overflowed, which usually means an inch or more (rough estimate).  We are grateful for every bit of rain we get, although it does open the door for fungus and rot, some of which is a good thing, some ....not so much.

I don't know much about wild mushrooms and I probably wouldn't be brave enough to eat them even if I did.  But it's a shame all mushrooms are not edible.

Last year, we got so much rain right after the grape vines set fruit, that they all got black spot.  I sure hope that doesn't happen again.

But the lettuces, peas, kales, chard, and spinaches are loving the cool wet weather.  With the rat population cut back some, and the spaces between the yard gates closed up to keep the rabbits out, I have finally been able to have my first meal of homegrown spinach.  There is still a rabbit in the yard sometimes when I go out.  I walk around after it, it runs a little ahead of me, then stops and waits for me to catch up, and then runs again.  That works out ok because with my bad knee, I'm not able to run.  Sometimes it shows me where it got in, and I show it to Hubs.  He fastens a piece of chicken wire over it.  Oh, this old chain link material is in such bad shape.  Still, a poor fence is better than no fence.  Other times the rabbit will walk me around the fence enough that I give up, at which time I will just open a gate and follow it around till it goes out the gate.   Sheesh.

Total rats destroyed since March 24 stands now at 86.  For a couple of days we didn't catch anything and I had hopes we were on top of it.  Then Hubs saw one around the woodpile, we set the trap and caught 2 that day.  Then one, the next day.  I startled something between the garage and the cellar Saturday morning, didn't see what it was but I didn't think it was very big.  Sunday afternoon Hubs spotted a medium-sized rat lying dead in the front flower bed.  Spike and DDIL were here and he didn't say anything because he didn't want to spook DDIL.  She freaks out at spiders. and she won't cook a whole turkey on Thanksgiving because she refuses to stick her hand into the cavity to take the neck out.  We hate to think what she'd do if she saw a dead rat. 

I am reading "The Holistic Orchard" by Michael Phillips.  I'm not very far into it but I am glad to know that I've got a good start on it, what with clearing out grass under the fruit trees, spreading wood-chip mulch, and planting companion plants under the tree where the grass was.  I have been trying to encourage Comfrey under the trees for a couple of years now, and two of the plants have taken hold and really "gone to town" under their trees. 
This one will be blooming soon, and so I will cut it back and prepare the leaves for drying.  I've never known if I have Russian Comfrey or the common variety, because I got it from a local woman and she didn't know.  But it never seems to make any seeds, not in the 3 or 4 years I've been growing it, so I'm thinking it's not the common variety.  Each has it's purpose, I think the Russian is better medicinally and the common is a better compost and animal-feed plant, but for the most part, they can both be used for either and both are good in orchards.   These haven't spread as fast as I would like and it would be nice be able to propagate by digging up little seedlings rather than having to dig up some of the root of an existing plant.  A couple of others didn't do as well but at least lived through the seasons.  Many of them didn't make it.  I always dry some of the leaves and store them in a gallon jar for use as needed during the winter.  

There are some big clumps of perennial clover coming up in the garden from which I've been trying to establish growth under the fruit trees.  It's big, rounded flowers are more purple than red, so I don't know exactly what variety it is.  All I know is that it stays alive all winter long.  It is discernible from most other clovers because it grows in thick clumps about 12" tall and the large leaves have chevron-looking markings on them.   If it is what is called "Red Clover" ( Trifolium pratense), then the young leaves and flowers can be used in salads, or fresh or dried, for tea.
Crimson Clover is also tall, but it's a biennial, and if you want it to come back the following year, you must let it go to seed or cast new seed in the fall.  Both are kind of a nuisance, because when Crimson Clover goes to seed it is pretty ugly.  If I buy seed, I have to go to Collinsville to get it, because elsewhere it's kind of expensive.  While in full flower, it IS probably the most beautiful clover I've ever seen, and the bees will come to it from miles around.

Since I know that it fixes nitrogen in the soil, I think a perennial clover is a good candidate for under the fruit  trees.  It can certainly hold it's own against Bermuda grass.  Both Clover and Comfrey need a place where they can get their roots down deep, and since we went to the trouble to dig all those rocks out of the ground for the trees, it's a bonus to get double-duty for the rock-free area.  Comfrey nourishes the tree.  Carole and I were just discussing how good Comfrey tea is for darn near everything in the garden and sure enough, Michael Phillips hinted at a tea recipe he's going to offer in a later chapter than where I'm reading now, that is used as a foliar spray instead of chemicals, which includes Comfrey tea and pure Neem oil. 

I have Dutch White clover in places in the yard and I really wouldn't mind having clover instead of grass.  Joe tells me the deer love it but hey, they're over here anyway eating leaves off my trees in the unfenced areas of the property, and nipping off the tops of my little sapling trees.  If clover'll fill 'em up, Rock On.  By the way, the pecan saplings are recovering, Hubs and I are trying to get them better protected.

This is now Monday and I've been out in the garden.  I decided to make this "Herb Gathering Day", so the first thing I harvested was a whole bunch of baby dill plants growing thickly in the bed where I have planted beets.  I didn't think the beets were coming up, but yes, they are, right in amongst all that baby dill, and they probably appreciate the extra bit of growing room that they have since I harvested a lot of the dil.  I haven't planted it for a couple of years now.  It self-sows.  I like to have some plants that grow umbels because they draw beneficial insects, but I think I've had enough of dill and would like to do fennel instead.  I don't tend to use a lot of dill now that I don't make dill pickles, but I cleaned and brought in enough of these little plants to dry.

I watched an interview on Growing A Greener World last Saturday and the woman being interviewed talked about so many things that I already do that I told Hubs, "Man, she sounds like she's been reading my blog!"  Until she said if you have an attic and live in warmer parts of the country, you can dry herbs in your attic.  Excuse me, no, you cannot.  There are lots of things you CAN dry in your attic, and I have done that every summer since we've been here where there is a nice walk-in attic.  Apples.  Peppers.  Tomatoes.  But that kind of heat bakes out the delicate flavor and color of herbs.  Herbs dry just fine in just a few days on newspaper someplace away from the sun and temperature extremes.  Toss them a bit with your hands every time you pass through the room where they are. This same person also mentioned that you can tie your herbs in a bundle and dry them upside down inside a paper bag.  Well, herbs have been dried upside down for centuries but one of the rules you must observe is that the leaves need to be totally stripped from the part of the stems that are bunched together, and you should keep your bunches small, or mold will grow.  I wouldn't put them in a paper bag unless I was wanting to collect the seed that fell out, as in poppies, but in that case I'd rather dry them standing upright, anyway.  I've had things mold before when they didn't get enough air circulation.  My thinking is, I'm going to have to strip the leaves off the stems at some point, anyway.  Might as well do it up front.

The Lemon Balm is pretty thick now.  I have it growing under the grape arbor and I think that is going to be the perfect place for it. 
It is practically indestructible, it makes a rough mat of roots in a kind of a "crust" on top of the soil and will hold it's own against the Bindweed and Bermuda grass.  It will also keep the mold spores down while it's rainy and help hold the moisture in the soil when the season is hot and dry.  That mound of green about low center in the picture above is it.  There was another mound in the space to the right but I had already harvested from it when I took this picture.  Trimming encourages growth and it needs to be tough.  As you can see, there is ample Bindweed already growing there.  Bindweed is all over the place.  Even if, by some miracle, I was able to totally eradicate it from my land, it's on the land of all my neighbors, too.  That little picket fence is there because under the grape arbor seems to be a favorite pooping place of one of my neighbors' dogs.
I've tried growing other plants, including onions, mustard and Heal All (Prunella vulgaris) under the grape arbor, and nothing has done very well there until this, though I did have a little trouble getting it started.

This is the first year I've had enough to harvest since we've moved here.  I've missed having my home-grown Lemon Balm Tea during the winter.  If you do a search on herbal uses of lemon balm, you will get lots of hits, HERE is just one of them.  On the Common Sense Homesteading (link on my sidebar) there is a search box where you can search the blog for recipes containing Lemon Balm and there are a lot of them.  Also Lemon Verbena Lady has posts about it.  A link to her blog is also on the sidebar. 

Another thing to harvest now is Horehound. 
It grows best under adverse conditions and so it thrives on the south side of my house where the soil is poor and often too hot and dry.  It is already starting to make the little "knots" along the top ends of each stem, which will become flowers.  The flavor is best before they start to make flowers.  This is the best stuff for a sore throat I know of, but even when harvested at a good time, it tastes awful, and is usually blended with other, better-tasting things.  Once you've tasted Horehound, you will recognize its predominant taste, after menthol, in Ricola cough drops.  When my kids were little I grew Horehound and made cough drops with an infusion because I had a sugar-holic little girl that would say she had a sore throat just to get a cough drop.  She adapted well to the flavor of horehound but if she could've had the choice she would've chosen black cherry.  If I'd made honey-lemon she would've had one in her mouth all the time.  Kids.  Gotta love 'em. 

So now my dining room table is covered in herbs.  There's a ceiling fan right above the table, and I keep that going, day and night, until things are dry and ready to vacuum-seal in jars, using my trusty FoodSaver.  Lots of little jars are better than one big one, because you are more likely to use the whole jar when you make something herbal.  This keeps you from having to reseal a jar.  Also, my quart jars are in big demand for canning, and I never seem to have quite enough.  I barely use my pint and half-pint jars, except for jam.  I store my herbs in the pantry, where it is dark and cool most of the time.  When I have a new supply to go on the shelves, I dump the contents of jars packed the previous year, if there are any.  Mostly onto the compost.

I've harvested some dandelion -- some roots, leaves, and flowers.  I didn't get started soon enough for the roots and leaves, but I did get some dried to try.  I understand they are more bitter if harvested after the plants have started to make flower buds.  The flowers can, however, be collected for dandelion tea and I have done some of that.  But all that bending over to gather them is kind of hard on my back and bad knee.  They don't freeze very well and when you try to dry them they just turn into fluff.  About the only way I know to store dandelion flowers is to infuse just the yellow parts in almost-boiling water to cover and then freeze the cooled and strained infusion in ice-cube trays. 
This is an infusion of dandelion flowers with honey and lemon.

I have also dried the leaves of Walker's Low Catmint, a start of which was given to me by a dear and loyal friend.  (You know who you are.)
It makes a more flowery version of catnip tea.  I don't particularly like the taste of "real" catnip.

I do dry basil, even though everywhere you turn, people will tell you they don't keep their flavor when dried.  Well, yes they do.  (There's some drying on the table in the picture, the ones on the placemats.  Also some Peppermint.)  I have also made pesto and frozen the pesto in ice-cube trays.  (I use English walnuts instead of pine nuts because pine nuts are pretty expensive.)  Someone posted on their blog that to successfully freeze basil leaves, you have to dunk them in boiling water first.  I think before I would do that, I would try making a strong basil infusion in boiling water, and freeze that in ice cube trays after cooling and straining. 

Last year I grew a Mexican Tarragon plant I'd bought at Lowe's.  I'd tried to germinate seeds and just hadn't had any luck.  It didn't make any seeds, so I had to buy more, but it did make enough leaves for me to harvest, and I made Tarragon Vinegar.  (Heat cider vinegar to almost boiling, pour over the fresh leaves, to cover, then let steep for about 6 weeks.  Then strain.)  Mmmmmm.  It is soooo good on fish, or in bean dishes. 
This year, I scattered several of the seeds in a small flowerpot and covered it with a small plastic bag, and they germinated well.  Quite a few tolerated the transplant to it's own cup, and then later, the transplant into its permanent spot for the summer (they're annuals in my zone 6A).   It's said to tolerate hot and dry very well.  So far it's doing a good job of tolerating cool and wet.

It's tedious to harvest and prepare herbs and tea ingredients for storage, but you'll be so glad to have them during those long winter months ahead.  Just make sure they are perfectly dry (the leaves will crumble between your fingers) before you seal them to avoid the formation of mold inside the jar.  Leave the leaves intact whenever possible.  You will use them whole for teas and other infusions, and crumble them as you use them for cooking.  Powdered herb leaves don't tend to keep very well in storage.

Well, that's about it for this time, there are still more things around here that need to be gathered and dried and I will try to do that as much as I am able -- raspberry leaf, culinary sage, mints, and I might even try gathering some of the new leaves off the sassafras tree this year.  Each day, I try to get something set out into the garden.  All plants are outside now, waiting their turn.  So much to do, so little time (in between rest periods).

Till next time, Rock On...  Hugs xoxoxo

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Daily Doin's, Mid-April, 2015

Mother Robin looks on from a safe distance while I look into her nest.  She built it in a low crotch of a Hackberry tree that's going to have to come down before the fence guys can work on the fence.  This tree is badly damaged by being too close to the old fence and is showing signs of fatal distress, anyway.  This is one time when I'm glad we're at least 6 weeks out from start date.  I find it odd that this nest, unlike the one that was built on the inside surface of a ladder, hanging horizontally on the back fence summer before last and which housed several batches of baby Robins, is not lined in mud.  Uhhhhh.... Maybe that wasn't mud it was lined in.....  Robins seem to like to be near humans, but not quite as much as do House-Wrens and House-Sparrows.  They seem to want to trust humans but are just a little too scared to.  Gotta say, I kinda know how they feel.....  I'm going to try to give her plenty of space because I want to take a picture of the babies later on. 

The days rock on while we anticipate the long-awaited Last Average Frost Date.  In years past, I have considered that to be April 15.  But, last year's late freeze IN MAY has made me a little more cautious.  I can't remember that EVER happening, though maybe it has when I was working.  There was a lot that I didn't notice back then.  I've been looking at the 15-day Extended Forecast for Tulsa (nearest point, apparently), and for awhile they showed a low of 38º expected on the early mornings of April 25, 26 and 27.  Forecasts being iffy like they are, that could mean that it won't be that low when the date arrives, or it could be lower.  And at 38, there's not a lot of wiggle room, considering that we are north of Tulsa and usually a little cooler than they are.  Several days later, now, it's gone up to 42º so that's not so much of a threat.  Maybe you have a better site for an extended forecast, but I use  Along the left-hand sidebar is a place where you can choose "Forecasts", and then on the screen that comes up after are three choices under Forecasts, same place, where you can choose "15 Day".  It already knows where I am, and I don't see any place to plug in a zipcode or other clues for location, so maybe it will know yours, too.

Even when it's cold and/or raining, there is always something to do around here.  No time for slacking, even though I do, sometimes.....

I've been putting off having a garage sale for two or three years now.  I make it a practice that, whenever I run onto something that I don't use and that I don't find any particular joy in owning, I determine it's just taking up space and stick it in an open box I have sitting around.  When the box is full, I set it on the stairs going up and the first one of us that goes upstairs takes it to the walk-in closet in The Guest Room.  Well, the dang closet is still full even though I've donated a few big things and several big boxes full of clothes, and even though JR took home a couple of big boxes full of jeans, dress pants and shirts that I had bought up ahead of time for him and JC "to grow into" and then forgot where they were.  Spike and his wife even took home a few things.  But Mrs. Tightwad here just couldn't quite take the leap into donating everything.  I justified the clothes because they don't seem to sell very well at a garage sale since there are so many charitable organizations giving clothing away in Bartlesville, and some of them, I'd planned for Spike and JR to have, anyway.  Some of the other stuff I justified getting rid of because they were so hard to store, and I just didn't want to deal with them anymore.  But the rest would've required dragging the boxes down from upstairs and of course I'd want one last glance through them to make sure there's nothing in there I've changed my mind about.  For instance, there's a big, straight-sided glass apothecary jar, somewhere, that I was keeping Sonny's treats in, and then Hubs broke the lid, so I put the jar in the garage sale stuff.  Then, months later, I found another lid at a garage sale for a dime.  THEN, I couldn't find the jar.  Or, I packed up my old dishes because I bought new, and then found out they crack in the microwave.  So now I need my old dishes.  Stuff like that.  But anyway, that's a lot of work on it's own, so, what the hell, I'll have a garage sale.  Remember, we don't usually "make" money selling things at a garage sale.  We recover some of the original purchase price but it's usually only a small percentage.  What we ARE accomplishing is getting the stuff out of our households and into someone else's.  We get a little bit back, they get a bargain and we're both happy.  Maybe I recover a little more of what I spent on most things, if I originally bought them at a garage sale.  Sometimes I actually "make" money on a few things.  But most of the time, I lose.  Hopefully we have learned not to buy stuff we will tire of quickly and the buyer gets something they really need.  Or not.

Having a garage sale is sooooo much easier now that we have our very own attached garage.  I store only a few things for the garage sale stuff in there, because a rat or mouse occasionally gets into the garage and they can make an awful mess when it comes to things made of plastic, wood, paper, or fabric.  We have not had a rat in the house since we moved here but we came very close one time, which worried the cat, and me worse than the cat.

There is great convenience in having an attached garage, in many ways.  Our garage doesn't get used for the storage of our vehicle, because Hubs bought that Silverado (without my knowledge or input) and the dang thing is too big to fit in the garage.  So Hubs used the garage as his workshop and that didn't work out very well because it was always so cluttered, and everything was coated in sawdust.  After he built his workshop, separate from the house, I took over the garage.  I bought a used stove and Joe activated the 220 outlet that was on the wall, so that was the start of my "canning kitchen".
We had these vertical pieces left over because we had to buy a couple extra units when we bought shelf units for the pantry, and that was the only way I could get the extra shelves I needed.  I had an idea for how we could use them and Hubs took the idea and ran with it.  This is why Hubs and I make a good team.  Having jar storage in the same place where I do my canning saves me many, many steps.
The garage is not heated or air-conditioned so the heat I generate when I do my canning does not increase our electric bill by overworking the air-conditioning.  And I notice I have a lot less problems with siphoning because it will be approximately 20º warmer in the garage than in my kitchen during summer, and that makes less of an adjustment that the boiling-hot jar has to make when it's taken out of the canner.  I wish the garage had running water and I've been thinking about buying a utility sink and getting an estimate from a plumber.  I also bake out there during the summer months, so as not to heat up the kitchen.

I mix my seed-starting soil and pot plants in the garage, and there is storage for my containers and soil mix components.  I keep plants that I'm hardening off for the garden on carts in the garage and just wheel the carts out onto the driveway for the day and back in for the night.  Easy peasy.  Being unheated, it gets cold in the garage in the winter, but has never gotten down below freezing even when it's bitterly cold outside.  So Hubs still keeps things in the garage that would freeze, or things that he uses for maintenance inside the house -- like lightbulbs, furnace filters, paint and painting gear, and an extra set of hand tools so he doesn't have to trek out to the workshop every time we need to hang a picture or shovel some snow (or so I won't go out to his workshop and borrow his tools, then forget where I left them.  It's one of the prices he pays for living with someone who is otherwise so, so delightful).  Ahem!  I use it for winter storage of bulbs and other non-winter-hardy plants.  If I get a bumper crop of apples from my BraeStar apple tree (someday), I will store them out there over the winter.  They are supposed to store well and that will be a real savings of time and money over having to can, freeze, or dry them.  Plus it's so much better for you to eat a whole apple instead of one that's been peeled and cooked.  The majority of an apple's vitamins and minerals are in the peel.

An attached garage really shines when you're planning to have a garage sale.  It cuts the work involved in half.  You can set up your sale at your leisure, close the doors and walk away whenever you feel like it.  Once you've got everything set out and priced, you can then place your ad, and aside from putting up your signs, you're ready.  No deadlines, no pressure.  You can run several days and know that when you are ready to close up for the day and collapse, it only involves closing the door, and then you're ready to go the next day.  When the sale is over, there's no hurry in dealing with what's left.  So, on Wednesday, Hubs loaded up some stuff out of the garage that belonged in the workshop and brought the folding tables up from the workshop on the way back.  I moved things around and cleaned up.  The rats found their way into the garage through a tiny space between the floor and the gasket of one of the garage doors, and boy, did they ever make a mess before their stolen meal of D-con took effect.

One of these days, I'm going to buy a small car.  One that's easy for me to get in and out of.  Maybe a Nissan Altima.  I saw one the other day while we were out and then when I researched it, I found it's rated #6 in affordable mid-size cars by US News.  Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord are #2, with Honda Accord Hybrid being #1.  I hate driving that Silverado.  All the things that Hubs thinks are good things about it, I think are bad things.  I am tempted to believe that the reason why men love big trucks is because they are over-compensating for something.  ;~)  But anyway, a small car would fit in the other bay of the garage, OR it could just be parked beside the truck under the carport, providing Hubs doesn't take his half out of the middle, that is.....   MEN.  Gotta love 'em......

I have kept myself busy planting a few things every day.  Some in the garden, some in the herb bed, and some in various places around the yard.  I'm having trouble finding places for some things because I cannot plant anything else around the yard fence because of the work that will take place there when everything's in full swing.  I approach my garden as I do everything else.  I do as much as I can comfortably do in a day.  Some days, that's not very much.  Anything, no matter how small, can be considered progress, while doing nothing is only stagnation.  The tomato plants are big enough that, when I plant them, I put them deeply in the hole.  This means I remove several of the branches that would otherwise be underground.  I carried a container of water out to the garden with me and I put those side branches in the water.
It hasn't been more than a week, maybe less.
Yet another way to maximize your planting stock.

Hubs and I hit a few garage and estate sales on Friday morning and once again, we found very little worth buying.  One quart canning jar for fifty cents.  A stack of 8 Rubbermaid drawer dividers (I use them for starting seedlings) for $2.  The prices, in general, were so incredibly high that even if I HAD seen something I wanted, I probably could've bought it new for the same price if I shopped around.  Hubs always says, "They're sure proud of their stuff".  This is an old farmer's expression, I think.  And if you pay that high price for something that the seller is "proud of", it is customary for people you know to point at you and laugh, and say, "Boy!  They seen YOU comin'!"  Heh.

We were out of bananas and oranges so we stopped at Aldi while we were out.  I never noticed this on the shelves before.  It's where the cooking oils are shelved.
The price, at $1.99, sure beats the price I paid for virgin coconut oil at VitaCost a couple of weeks ago, and that doesn't say anything about being cold-pressed, so it probably isn't.   Wal-Mart's price for LuAnna coconut oil is better, but it doesn't say anything about being virgin, unrefined OR cold-pressed.  So it's probably had the bejeezers processed right out of it.  Plus, Aldi's is packed in a standard glass pint jar that you can use later for relish or jam or whatever, and a nice metal lid.  You ROCK, Aldi!

I bought a bag of Fuji apples, too, since they were on sale.  This time, I'm going to save the seed and plant them.  One of the interviews on the gardening forum I signed up for last week was with Paul Wheaton.  He had a lot of things to say but one that really tweaked me was about planting the seeds from apples that you buy.  He said it's not true that you won't get a decent tree if you plant the seed, adding that about 20% will make apples that are "spitters", 20% will make apples that are like the fruit you took it from, and the other 60% will be somewhere in between.  Now, when space is not a problem, an apple tree grown from seed is better than some shade tree you've bought that doesn't produce anything but shade.  If it makes bad apples, cut it down and use the wood in your smoker.  Or in some other way.  Or leave it and let the wildlife have the apples.  If it makes apples that are edible but not exactly what you expected, then make juice.  If it makes apples just like the apple that the seed came from -- Boo-ya!

Along those lines, I have to tell you about some Red Currant bushes that I bought from Gurney several years ago.  Now, I'm not a satisfied customer when it comes to Gurney's, and I won't order from them anymore because half the time they don't seem to have what I order in stock.  You'd think, if you order online, they ought to know if they have it before they take your money, right?  Not so with Gurney.

But these "currant bushes" came and I planted them in a good spot, and last spring I got my first harvest.  A couple of things bothered me about that fruit.  First off, it was black when it was ripe, not red.  Secondly, the fruit had pits that were like cherries and not seed like you find in currants.

But I went ahead and picked what I could.  I had to cover the plants in nylon netting when the fruit started ripening, because there was a dang Mockingbird haunting the place.  It already had pretty much stripped my Pink Champagne Currant bush, and I only got a few of those after chasing the Mockingbird off.  Normally, I love the birds but those dang Mockingbirds will rob you of your fruit harvest whenever they can.  I pitted the "Red Currants", put most of them in the freezer, and made a small batch of jam, which I didn't taste but just put on the shelf in the pantry.  Well, last week I opened a jar and put a spoonful into my unflavored yogurt and "Wowsers!"  Didn't taste like any currant I ever tasted.  Tasted like a sweet black cherry to me.  So I'm pretty sure this is Hansen's Bush Cherry, which Gurney also sells, in fact, I bought two of those, too, but they died.  I'm thinking the tags must've gotten mixed up.
This jam is pretty thin because I expected the fruit to be more tart than it was, and the more tart fruits don't require pectin.  Just fruit and sugar in equal amounts, a pat of butter to prevent foaming, and take it to the jelly point.  But the "syrup" will be good on pancakes, or as ice cream topping.  I will use the cherries that are in the freezer in fruit mixes (homemade fruit cocktail).  Better for us than jam, any day.  Since the cherries I get from the Nanking bushes are more tart, and tend to fall to pieces after pitting, they will probably be better candidates for jam. 

Here's what the Pink Champagne currants looked like, and this was all I got last year.

They were tart and seedy.  After the Mockingbird's assault, the bush lost all its leaves and appeared to have died.  But it's back this spring, which is good, because the seeds I'd saved and wintersown didn't come up.

There's a bonus to not tilling your garden beds.  Besides the earthworms and the obvious stuff, that is.  You get little surprises.  Now, what is this?  Looks like a blackberry or a raspberry to me.
I tasted a leaf.  Doesn't taste minty or "herbal".  But I know I've seen something like this before.  There's also a turnip coming up.

Well, Hubs has my Saturday morning gardening show on the TV, so I will leave you now to see what's going on there.

Till next time, Rock On....  Hugs xoxoxo

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Daily Doin's, Second Week Of April, 2015

We were in the path of tornadic activity last Wednesday night but dodged the bullet once again.  Of course I'm always grateful when lives are not lost and property is not damaged, but I wish we could get more rain out of these storms.  Not even enough to fill the bullet tank so much of the time.  A full bullet tank means an inch, approximately.  I had hoped for rain on the carrot seed I planted (Atomic Red and Cosmic Purple), and the seedlings I set out on Tuesday and Wednesday (Angelica, Roman Chamomile, Malabar Spinach, Showpiece Dahlia, Gomphrena), and the onion sets, all of which are planted, now.

I thought Glenda's idea of heeling in the tomato plants was a very good one.  But I looked at the extended forecast which covers almost to the end of April, and there are no nights below 40º expected.  So I have just gone ahead and started planting tomato plants.  Since I have all these bags of leaves, and many of them are whole leaves that can't be used for much right away, unless I shred them, I thought I'd put them to use in providing protection from the wind and storms.  They seem to be doing a pretty good job of that.  Our spring winds are pretty strong.  When storms are eminent, I put an extra bag in the front, as well.  And I thought these would help, should we get a surprise frost, in insulating the tomato plants from damage.

On Tuesday I noticed a white web in one of the plum trees.  Awwww, Geeze, we managed to get through a morning frost a week ago with no damage and now this.   I poked the bag open with a stick and they all fell out on the ground.  Mistake number one.  Then I walked away, thinking the birds would discover them and eat them all up.  Mistake number two.  So I'm out there, after I've researched it on the Internet, picking them all up and dropping them in a bucket of water.  More research yielded a better way to kill them, by spraying the unopened web bag with used cooking oil or dish detergent watered down with an equal amount of water.

One of my neighbors said to me, a couple of years ago, "This here is a hostile environment".  And he's got that right.  The rats just keep marching on.  Well, scurrying is a better description.  The death toll is now up to 75.  Yes, I'm serious.  Dead serious, you might say.  They're managing to get into the garage now, even with the doors closed.  Every day, the D-con packet that I keep in a Folger's can lid on the floor is either disturbed or empty.  Hubs thinks he's got their point of entry closed up but I'm not so sure.  Of course we can't count the ones that die from the poison unless they just throw themselves down in front of us.  And sometimes they actually do that.

On the Good News front:
  • I've seen resurrection of several plants I thought had died, which includes the Burning Bush, Perennial Baby's Breath, Ground Nuts, Pink Champagne Currant.  Still no signs of life from Summer Savory, Possum Haw, Rosemary, and the little pecan trees that were munched on by rabbits or deer. 
  • We are starting to see toads in the yard now.  Toads are voracious bug eaters and so I'll do everything I can to make habitat in the garden for them.  I've told Hubs to keep his weed-wacker out of there.  
  • We are already seeing the benefit of not tilling the garden in an explosion of the earthworm population.  When I dig into the soil to plant, it's full of them.  The soil is moist and the texture is better than it has ever been.  Of course we still find rock to dig out.  Moving wood chips is labor intensive and now Hubs cannot be the one who shovels it because he is sensitive to the mold that forms in the pile.  But wood chips and leaves are a lot easier for us to get than straw or hay.  Almost everyone around here has their hay baled into those big huge round things now, that require special equipment in order to move them around.  Each bale must weigh at least a ton.  It's probably good for the rancher, because in order to steal hay, you've gotta have the special equipment, too, and most people who steal hay, don't.  But it's real hard also for the home gardener to get hay economically because it has to be delivered.  The neighbor from whom I bought a big bale several years ago apparently got divorced and moved to Tulsa.  Big round bales tend to be left laying on their sides in the field, which confuses me.  I've always been told if you leave hay out to be rained on, it's considered "spoiled hay" and is not fit to feed to horses.  So it can only be sold to people who are feeding cattle, then, I guess.  I can't imagine how the round bales could be stacked under a pole barn like we always used to see square bales stored.  But then, there's a lot about ranching that confuses me. 
  • I think I finally have living Pearl Bush seedlings.  The reason I only "think" that's what they are is because I don't remember planting the seeds.  However, this pot was in the cold frame, where the cuttings (which all died) were.  It just so happened that I didn't dump out the pot to use it for something else, and now and then I'd splash some water on it only because I thought maybe there were roots of something in the pot that had died back and might re-emerge.  Last winter I put some of the seeds I still had from the bushes that I gathered from a year ago in a wintersowing container, but none of them have come up.  Then when I looked back in my post on this blog from a year ago, where I wrote about my encounter with the bushes, I saw that I said sometimes it takes the seeds a year to germinate.  I've looked at the pictures of the leaves on the bush that I took then, and they appear to be pretty much the same, allowing for the fact that these seedling leaves are immature versions of the leaves.  I have a bad habit of not labeling things, saying to myself that I'll do it later or that I know I'll remember.  Well, no, I won't, and I ought to know better.
  • I'm going to separate these into individual pots very soon and let them grow a little more.  Maybe I will "hedge my bets" by setting about half of them out somewhere, when I figure out where would be the best spot.  It's pretty improbable that these seedlings are weeds, because there would be more variety in the pot.  Every seedling in this pot is the same as the others.  
  • Remember the pieces of live plant I found in a leaf bag last January, that both Carole and Glenda said were Euonymous 'Manhattan'?  Well, the pieces I put in the ground under a jar in the dry flower bed just to the left of the front steps is still alive.  And the pieces I've been keeping in water since January have FINALLY started making roots. 

I decided to make Cabbage Roll Casserole for supper on Thursday, as I had a dentist's appointment and expected it to be a busy day as well.  (I need an old filling replaced)  It is something that doesn't take very long to put together and since it cooks in the oven there's no standing around in the kitchen.  I've posted about it, about a year ago, HERE.  I just make half a recipe since it's just Hubs and me.  On Wednesday night, I just made a 4-egg omelet that Hubs and I shared. On Thursday we ate leftovers, Friday we had the last of the Runzas out of the freezer, and then last night it was grilled chicken breast, green beans and I used up some blocks of mashed potatoes out of the freezer.

Speaking of potatoes, mine are up, in the garden.  Usually I cut the seed potatoes in pieces, but I've been reading that they produce better if you just plant them whole, so I gave that a try this time.  Seems like it really can be true that "rules are meant to be broken" sometimes.  Don't tell anyone I said that, though.  Heh.

I'm enjoying some of the presentations on the Home Grown Summit.  Some of them are not something I'm interested in and there's a lot to assimilate in just a day if you watch all of them.  A lot of the participants are people I have already "met", through their books, websites, blogs, and YouTube presentations.  I kind of wish they'd put their historical information somewhere other than at the beginning of their presentations, and I wish Marjorie Wildcraft would be a little less forthcoming with her opinions and experiences during some of her interviews but you can't expect free stuff to be perfect.  I'll be taking that temporary post down since I think Monday is the last day.

Friday was a full day, and it was a keeper.  Hubs and I hit a few garage sales and ran into a man we knew who noticed me limping, and asked why.  After I explained about how I came to have a bad knee, he told me he had had both knees and one hip replaced by a local doctor and he couldn't say enough about what a great job the doctor did.  Even said he went to him because a man he was friends with had several surgeries done by him and the guy's wife told him she LOOOOVED that doctor.  Well, who do you suppose that is?  Dr. Smith, who practices right here in town, and yes, you will recognize who he is when I tell you he is Ree Drummond's dad.  I was thrilled to hear such glowing reports and I've decided I'll give him a call instead of going all the way to Tulsa to Dr. Plaster.  Dr. Plaster did Hubs' knees, he came very highly recommended to us.  Hubs had a quick and easy recovery and we were delighted with the results.  But the trip 50 miles one way to a doctor when you're stressed and in discomfort, is inconvenient.

Later on that afternoon, Hubs decided to see if he could figure out what's wrong with my dishwasher.  I've been doing my dishes by hand for a month or more now.  It turns out there's nothing wrong with the pump.  The drain is clogged.  He's fixed that and the dishwasher is back in operation.  Washing dishes by hand was only a little bit more inconvenient than normal operations, as I have yet to see a non-commercial dishwasher that'll hold pots and pans, much less get them clean.  And of course there are things I won't put in the dishwasher, such as my good ol' Cutco knives and my cast iron skillets.  We were at Lowe's the next day and I complained to a guy in the appliances department about the bottom rack of the dishwasher being so poorly designed and he just kind of patronized me.  I thought maybe I'd look in some of the other dishwashers and see a rack I liked, and then have them order it.  But all the GE dishwashers had crappy racks, and the ones in other makes were shaped different.  One of the other makes had the silverware caddy on the front of the rack rather than on the side and I thought that was a nice arrangement.  I went home and moved my silverware rack from the side to the middle, where there ought to be another row of "tines" but there isn't.  Maybe I'll like this better.  It won't fit in the front of the rack because of the way the rack is shaped.  But at least now I can fit deep bowls on the right side of the rack where the silverware caddy is "supposed" to be.

I looked at the top rack and I think I'll have Hubs cut out every other "tine" along the right-hand side to accommodate cereal bowls.  Hubs said if he does that, the cut ends will rust, but why wouldn't a drop of nail polish on each "wound" seal it off??  Otherwise, there's just no good place to put cereal bowls.  I end up placing them open-side down and that wastes a lot of space.  The coffee pot doesn't fit well ANYWHERE.  I even contacted GE and asked them if they had racks for this model that might be better engineered and they just flatly said "no".  Period.  How arrogant.  Next time I talk to them, it'll be with my dollars.

Annnnnnnnnnnnndddddddddd, they delivered my new living room furniture!  Oh, I just love it all, and everything fits in the room just as I planned.  When I sit on this furniture, I don't sink down into the cushion and it is not hard on my knee or back to get back up.  I still have the little plaid sofa-bed to get rid of, and there may be some problems with that, owing to the fact that it is so heavy.  After it's gone I'll post a "reveal" for the room, even though you've seen most of it, in pieces, as we completed each task.

The next project will be new countertops in the kitchen, as the old Formica is damaged and has come loose in a couple of places.  It's not worth repairing.  Formica has come a long way since people started buying granite, quartz and marble instead.  They have some that has edges like the good stuff has and you have to get practically right on top of it to be able to tell the difference.  I loved the look of my granite countertops at The Ponca House but they darkened everywhere there was a drop of spilled grease or oil.  And they were, of course, more expensive.  This is the pattern I will choose, I think:

Yes.  That's Formica.  This "sample" is printed on 11x17" paper so you can actually lay it down on your existing counter and back away to see how you like it.  So much better than those little pieces.  And probably cheaper for them to make.  They're made into a pad so you can just tear one off if you want to take it home.

I also want to strip the top of the coffee bar, which, if you remember, is a country-style yellow oak table top, stain it a darker oak color to go better with the wood-look laminate flooring, and seal it off with polyurethane and paste wax, so Hubs won't have to hear it from me every time he spills coffee and doesn't wipe it up.  I guess I could have a counter top made of the same Formica when I have the cabinet counters done, but I like the looks of that coffee bar, other than the fact that the table top is too yellow.  While I'm at it I might strip just the top of the dining room table, re-stain, polyurethane and wax.  It has a couple of glass rings from when the boys lived with us, and then it was raining when we moved and I didn't see that one end of the middle leaf was damaged.  A little sanding might be all that's needed to strip it, as none of this damage would've happened if the finish had been done right to begin with.  When I refinish something that will need to do hard service, I always polyurethane, smooth with coarse steel wool when dry, sometimes just two coats and smoothings, but usually three, then a final coat, followed by a light rubdown with paste furniture polish on the steel wool.  That makes the surface practically impervious.  These will be projects for winter, as there's too much else going on right now.

We hit the garage and estate sales on Friday AND Saturday, but didn't buy much at all.  That stainless steel strainer that you saw in the bottom rack of the dishwasher was a dollar, and will replace one I have that's similar but made of aluminum.  I am phasing out the use of aluminum where food preparation is involved.  Watch, now, once we get all our aluminum out of service, they will find there's a property to stainless steel that makes it unsafe to use, too.  Heh.  Or they will find out aluminum may be safe, afterall.  But I doubt that.  Life's a crapshoot, ya know.

I bought an "antique-look" queen-sized headboard for $15 that I had in mind to use somehow in the garden but now I'm starting to think I might use it on the guest room bed instead of that padded leather headboard. 

I just love fancy metal-work for some reason.  Bought this rack a couple weeks back, and the chairs last summer.

While we were out we stopped at Food Pyramid, our grandson JR works at the bank satellite there.  Every time I see him at work, it just amazes me how grown-up and responsible he is, and he is the one I never thought would amount to much because I just couldn't keep him in school.  Class clown, that was JR.  Always smarting off and trying to be "cool".  Got suspended on the first day of school one year.  I'm so proud of him and how he's turned his life around.  And he looks so much like my dad did when he was a young man.   I had bought a few garage sale things for his little daughter, and I didn't want to embarrass him by just going in and handing him the bag, so I poked my head in and said, "Gimmee your car keys!"  He said, "Why?"  And I said, "SHEESH!  So's I can go on a joyride, Silly!"  He handed them over, I clicked his lock from a little distance and Hubs, who was standing by his car with the bag, opened the door and stuck it in there.  Then I clicked the lock, returned JR's keys and clicker, kissed him on the neck (he was on the phone) and he said, "Love you..." as I went out the door.  Of course I said, "Love you, too..." before I was gone.  I knew there was a good kid in there, all those years he was growing up and being such a butt.  So grateful.  Thank you God, for answering all those prayers.

Our last stop was Aldi's.  There are certain things we always get there because their prices are cheaper.  Produce.  Eggs.  Oatmeal.  Chips and crackers.  Mayonnaise.  Yogurt.  Ice Cream.  Tomato paste.  Canned corn.  Other canned vegetables, fruit, and pie filling, if I don't have any of my home-canned stuff left.  Flour and sugar, if no one has any on sale when I need it.  Frozen orange juice concentrate.  They always have a row of non-grocery items and it changes depending on the season.  This time they had plants and bulbs.  The bulbs were $1.69.

Such a deal!  They had flowering vines and bushes for $7.99 and then a small selection of miscellaneous things for "perennial shrubs" for $2.29.  In that category I found this Crimson King rugosa rose:

Everything looked pretty good, some of the bulbs had already started to sprout and so I got them right into the ground that day.  The rose, hard to tell.  Not very big, but a better root system on it than lots of things I've bought other places that cost more.  The peat moss it was packed in was still slightly moist, but probably wouldn't be after another couple days.  It's hydrating in some water and I will find a place for it today.  Having to restrain myself from planting anything more along the yard fence because it'll make it harder for the men to work on the fence when the time comes.  I still haven't heard what it's going to cost, guess I will have to do a little bird-dogging.  This is one thing I just hate about contractors.  You have to bird-dog them or they'll just plain forget to do what they promise to do.  That seems to be the norm for contractors around here.

Today's only supposed to get to 77º and I will probably do some more work in the garden.  I'd like to get some more wood chips down before tonight, we have some good chances for rain and we need it so badly.  We have had many rainy days but the volume of rain we've gotten out of them hasn't amounted to much, and I've had to water out of the cistern in some areas already.   Still getting asparagus, braised a pound and put it in the freezer as it was just more than I could eat.  Getting small pickings of lettuce, chard and kale.  The Bok Choy went right to seed.  Sheesh.  Did that last time I planted it.  Guess I won't waste my time with Bok Choy again.  The spinach is finally being left alone by critters, the leaves of the ones that have survived are growing and wrinkling up like spinach is supposed to do.  Maybe I'll get a harvest off them soon.  Oh, and now's the time when Egyptian Walking Onions are at their best. 

Till next time, Rock On........  Hugs xoxoxo